“There's blood on this. Like, right there. I'm pointing at it.” Lucy sighed, and rubbed her fingers across the blue satin in her hands. “Blood,” she said again, pointing at a spot just next to the right shoulder's seamline. The stain was a few shades darker than her own skin and stood out against the fabric just as well “You cannot rent something, return it stained with blood, and expect to get your deposit back.”
Karina Smith --a local girl Lucy was half sure she'd babysat for maybe five or six years ago-- had the nerve to look affronted.“It's not blood. It's red wine.”
God, she hated teenagers. “And you're a sophomore in high school, so why would you think that's going to get you into any less trouble?” The Mystic Falls PD was apparently still turning a blind eye towards what was a rampant teenage drinking problem. Not her concern, but she couldn't help rolling her eyes. “This is probably a fifty dollar dry cleaning so how are we doing this, Karina?”
Credit card it looked like. Lucy sighed as Karina stepped to the side and pulled out her cell phone to call her parents.
Honestly, Lucy Edgecomb just wanted to go back to school. For a college she had to pay over forty grand a year to attend, Sweet Briar sure did send her back home to her parents a lot. No, it wasn't mandatory to leave campus over breaks, but her parents liked having her home and they were fronting most of that forty thousand a year, so what was a girl to do?
The parental preferred option generally won out and dutifully, Lucy went on home to West Bumblefu-- sorry, Mystic Falls-- where the family had lived since before the turn of the century (not by choice, Lucy was fond of telling anyone who brought it up) and owned a costume and vintage rental boutique that had been in the family for nearly as long.
Edgecomb Ensembles made a pretty penny for being a costume store in a town of just under twenty thousand in the middle of Virginia. Combine a town steeped in ridiculous traditions and located in what Lucy called 'the Civil War Belt' of Virginia, and you had a disturbing plethora of costuming needs to meet.
“Emphasis on disturbing.” The staining at the shoulder wasn't as bad when she looked at it again, but there was no mistaking that it was blood. Nothing else dried like that, rusty in color and making the fabric slightly stiffer than it was meant to be. Almost as though it would crack if she folded it over in half. When she brought it into the small back room to take a damp paper towel and an old mixture her mother had taught her to test, her suspicions were confirmed.
Lucy was scowling by the time she hung it next to five other blood stained dresses that had been returned that week. “What the hell was going on at that dance?” It was a purely rhetorical question that Lucy was sure she already knew the answer to, but she couldn't help feeling that it warranted a vocal complaint.
She was double majoring in Art History and Theatre with a concentration historic textiles. That kind of thing just happened when you grew up in a costume shop that, by virtue of location, specialized in the late 19th century. Lucy knew blood stain fabric when she saw it and she probably could have gotten it out of the five dresses herself with a bit of elbow grease, but with the weird (and inconvenient) timing of the Sockhop Dance costume returns overlapping with the start of Founders Day season she didn't have time to scrub blood out of fifty year old dresses without ruining them.
“And I passed up a Williamsburg internship for this...” she muttered, reaching for the sponge, a small bottle of detergent, and the family grimoire on the shelf above the sink. Tools no Edgecomb woman ever went without. “Five unused dry cleaning bills and I've got books for two Spring classes.” Fair? Not entirely, no, but Lucy figured that anyone who'd grown up in Mystic Falls had lost, dropped, or simply never developed a moral code or two over the years.
Besides, maybe a lost deposit and a dry cleaning bill would teach a teenager (or five) to keep their necks out of the reach of vampires' mouths or –more importantly and simply-- to stop making oddly intense eye contact with strangers. As far as Lucy was concerned, either one would work.
At this point Lucy would have gladly lit every yard of tulle in the place on fire. If the store just so happened to go up in flames with it, then so be it. What did the sign under the awning say? Edgecomb Ensembles, circa 1878. Over 130 years of business was a good run for any small town shop.
The bells above the door jangled lightly with the slightest of crunches as they touched against the bush of herbs that hung there as well. She managed to look up and stab a needle into her cuticle at the same time.
Smile. Smile and don't curse at the customers. “Hi, can I help y-- Oh.” The way her eyebrow automatically cocked skeptically was completely not her fault and sticking her finger in her mouth to quell the pain of her sewing injury was just a momentary stall tactic. “Uh, hey.”
“Lucy. Hey. I didn't know you were home.”
“Yeah. Finished up school earlier this month. I'm here 'till August.” Bonnie Bennett was, without a doubt, the last person she had expected to see walk into the store that afternoon. Or ever, for that matter. As far as she'd heard the younger girl had more important things to be worried about than dressing up for ridiculous town events. “Nice to see you.”
“You too.” Bonnie smiled at her, even with the raised eyebrow which Lucy finally reminded herself to lower. “How's it going?
“I'm stitching up a fifty year old petticoat that some idiot put her stiletto through because she got drunk at Prom, someone wants to start Fourth of July rentals already, and then I've got blood to get out of a rental uniform. And I get to do this every day while I work for my parents all summer.” Bonnie grinned again and it was evident to Lucy that she understood sarcasm far better these days than back in the days when she'd been young enough to be babysat. “What's up?”
It had definitely been sometime since she'd last seen Bonnie. Her hair was different, so were the lack of braces, the clear skin, and eyes that looked as if they'd finally witnessed an adult truth or two in their time. The power Lucy could feel radiating from her even as she did something as mundane as lift a shopping bag onto a counter was new too. Probably had something to do with those truths.
If it wasn't one thing in this town, it was another.
Lucy recognised the dress as soon as Bonnie began pulling it out of the bag. The hand stiched, lilac chambray bodice was unmistakable, as was the stiff, cream colored coutil corset that tumbled out along with it. She instinctively grabbed the hem of the heavy skirt before it could slip off the counter and hit the floor. Bad enough the thing had been crammed into a paper bag. She remembered the months she and her mother had spent restoring it, and those efforts made the mid 19th century gown one of the most sought after rentals in the store. Seeing it returned prior to Founders Day season was near unheard of.
She suspected the worst. “What happened to it? What did you do?”
“It wasn't me and nothing happened, I promise,” Bonnie said, carefully handing her the rest of the dress and then the corset. “I'm just returning it for a friend. Caroline –you remember Caroline Forbes? She rented it for the Gone With the Wind showing tonight ages ago, but... there's kind of a change of plans. She asked me if I'd bring it back for her on my way in.”
Lucy felt her brow furrow, knowing that because this was Mystic Falls she'd still end up checking the dress for spots of blood later. The story would have sounded legitimate enough if she hadn't remembered Caroline Forbes being a girl who never passed up on the opportunity to participate in one of the town's ridiculous shindigs. There'd been a time when she'd had a tab at Edgecomb's comparable to the drunkest customers at the Grill and Lucy found it difficult to believe she'd just give up the envied lilac belle dress.
But there it was in front of her, and without any immediately discernible damage. Lucy sighed and idly raked her hand through her tight brown curls. “Okay. Give me a second-- I'll get you a receipt for the return for her.” She got up, dress in her arms and disappeared into the back of the shop for no more than a moment. The dress was hung temporarily near the sink and the corset laid on one of two unfolded ironing boards where they would late be subject to a full once over.
“So the Gone With the Wind thing's tonight?” She asked upon plopping back into her seat behind the register. Caroline's rental would be in the computer or hand written in a ledger underneath the counter, depending on whether her grandmother or mother had taken the order.
“Yeah, tonight. No last minute costume rentals reminding you?” Bonnie nodded as Lucy began typing. “Is this going to take long?”
“No it's not, and no, I guess the Scarlet’s and Johnny Rebs were good to go in advance this year,” Lucy quipped easily. “You're in a rush. I assume you're going?”
“Yeah... looks like it.” She didn't seem to have even half of Caroline Forbes' enthusiasm for town spirit and togetherness. Lucy could have wagered a few educated guesses why. “You?”
Smirking, she looked at Bonnie over the computer screen. “My family's been here a little too long for me to be sitting out in a park and glorifying the old South, if you catch my drift.” Or to be sitting outside in a park after sunset period in Mystic Falls. Never had an entire town been this slow on the uptake. “Yours too. But you have fun.”
The record of Caroline's rental was written in her grandmother's impeccable script inside the leather bound ledger, along with several other entries Lucy knew she would be responsible for entering into the electronic system over the course of the summer. She made quick work of the lilac dress and the cream corset and printed an invoice and receipt for the rental which she signed, marked as returned, and held out to Bonnie. “This should do it. Just let her know that if I find any damage, it's a small town and I know where she lives.”
Bonnie cracked a smile as she went for the receipt. “Thanks. I'll--”
A unexpected pause followed, and the receipt stayed between her fingers which were, in turn, underneath Bonnie's. Accidental human contact during customer service transactions were already awkward enough without adding the extra weirdness of magic touching magic. Granted, it was very, very strong magic touching very, very weak magic, but Lucy still grimaced. Crap.
Given the choice she would have let go, but Bonnie was clutching her hand now. What was it with people and long, steady eye contact and inappropriate touching in this town? Not every touch was meant to be a sign, and not every attempt to be polite and look a person in the eye during a conversation was meant to be hypnotic. Lucy didn't care how much a person thought they felt something, there was nothing forcing them to acknowledge it. It was that acknowledgment that got people into trouble.
It was about to get her into trouble.
Lucy forced her lips to turn up as she began to pry her hand away from Bonnie's. “Caroline's going to want her receipt and you're going to miss Gone With the Wind.”
“A senior at Sweet Briar majoring in historical textiles who's working at her parent's store for the summer?” Lucy interrupted, yanking away from the last of Bonnie's fingers. “That's right.”
“No. N-no, you're a wit--”
“A nothing.” Who would ever admit to possessing any sort of magic out loud in this town? It only took history to tell her that that was a poor choice, one that got you locked in a tomb, burned at a stake, or any other number of unpleasant outcomes. She knew something was going on, but was smart enough to know that as long as she could only describe it as something she and the rest of her family were perfectly safe. “Bonnie, it's nothing.”
“But you could help with a--”
Lucy held up her hand. “No, I can't help with anything, I--”
“--the werewolf bite. I need a cure and you--”
Werewolf bite? Hadn't she just been on her way to watch a movie in the park? “Bonnie, aside from making you a dress for Homecoming, there is nothing I can do for you.”
Bonnie shook her head. “You're lying. I felt you. You're a wit--”
“Please don't say that word. You say that word, and suddenly your problems are my problems. Whatever problems you have, are problems that I guarantee you I cannot afford,” she said, her voice becoming sharp as she glanced over to the large glass windows. She could see the sign that boasted circa 1878 and as much as she hated Mystic Falls, Lucy certainly wasn't going to be the one who ruined the place for her family.
This certainly explained the maturity that had taken over Bonnie's face since she'd last seen her. Was this her life in Mystic Falls on a daily basis? If it was, well, good for her, Lucy thought. It damn well isn't going to be mine. Or my mother's. Or my grandmother's.
Bonnie had started speaking again. “I'm just looking for a spell-- something that can cure a vampire who's been bitten by a werewolf.”
“These. These are the things that I do not want to hear,” Lucy said. “Listen, remember Cinderella? Sleeping Beauty? Enchanted?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Remember the--” she coughed pointedly as if it would cover the word she was about to say. “--magic in those movies? Not the evil stepmother kind, but the... you know, domestic goddess, 'I'll get the rats and birds to do chores for me' kind? That's about where my abilities level out. I get blood out of fabric, my sewing needle levitates and sometimes it finishes a hem while I'm sleeping, and occasionally I do a location spell for a text book I left across campus. I do not do anything other than that, and I definitely don't help vampires.”
“But what about--”
Lucy pursed her lips and trust the copy of Caroline's receipt back towards Bonnie. “There's no 'but'. I have limitations and I am perfectly happy in recognising those limitations. Take this, go to the thing in the park, and please keep all of this,” she gestured between Bonnie and herself. “To yourself.”
Did she feel bad about practically forcing the girl out of the store, immediately drawing the blinds, counting and closing up the till, and locking up the store for the night? A little. Maybe. But she hadn't done anything her parents wouldn't have told her to do anyway, and she hadn't told Bonnie any lies. She couldn't help. She'd felt Bonnie Bennett's power the moment she'd walked into the store and what she had was nothing in comparison. Domestic Goddess was actually a rather apt way of describing how she used the little magic she had. She sewed, she cooked, she cleaned, occasionally she located, and once –in a haze of teenaged angst-- she'd tried to brew true love. But that was it.
As she walked out of Edgecomb Ensembles that evening and flipped the Open sign around to Closed, she give the plaque dangling from the awning a mock salute. “At this rate, if we make it to 140 years I'm going to be impressed.”